In February, the most controversial idea conveyed by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan was their view on substitutionary atonement. In their minds, this is a heinous theology which leads humans away from the true teachings of Jesus. In our human mind, yes, it can sound evil in our own sense of justice. But, we are not talking about the minds of human. We are talking about the mind and justice of God.
We are to be punished by God. Not because He chose some of us to be, but because we have transgressed against His will, or sinned. Sin is not just stealing, adultery, or murder, but something deeper. When we act against God, we are acting as if we know what is better for our life than He. When we do this, we are replacing God with our own will. This, in turn, sets us up as a god in our lives. Putting an idol above the True God is breaking the First Commandment.
When we sin, what must God do? If He is just and perfect, He must punish us. To avoid punishing us, Christ came to earth to take the punishment. Is this barbaric? In the minds of fallen men, yes, it is. But in the eyes of a truly just God, it is not.
The statement I will concentrate on is the idea that this theology did not originate until the 11th century AD with the work of Anselm of Canterbury. Though this thought sounds correct when hearing them speak, it just isn’t true. What Anselm did was to take the theology of atonement and bring it again to the forefront. His writings were popular enough to influence Thomas Aquinas, whose views on atonement are held by the Roman Catholic Church.
The following verses contain the ideas behind substitutionary atonement. My point is to show that substitutionary atonement has been taught from the beginning and not just conceived out of thin air 1000 years after Christ died. If the reader does not believe that Christ, Paul, or Peter wrote them, so be it. Textual criticism can be argued at a later point.
1. Isaiah 53 – represent a prophecy of Christ’s future suffering
2. Matthew 20:28
3. 2 Corinthians 5:14-21
4. Galatians 3:10-13
5. I Peter 2:24; 3:18
6. John 12:27-33
7. Luke 4:16-22
8. Romans 5:18
9. I John 2:2
Those are just a few. The following quotes are taken from sources earlier than Anslem, and they clearly espouse the theology of substitutionary atonement. Take that Justin Martyr lived and wrote less than 100 years after Christ died, that would make him a 2nd/3rd generation Christian.
“If, then, the Father of all wished His Christ for the whole human family to take upon Him the curses of all, knowing that, after He had been crucified and was dead, He would raise Him up, why do you argue about Him, who submitted to suffer these things according to the Father’s will, as if He were accursed, and do not rather bewail yourselves? For although His Father caused Him to suffer these things in behalf of the human family, yet you did not commit the deed as in obedience to the will of God.” – Justin Martyr – Dialogue with Trypho – XCV
“And the Lamb of God not only did this, but was chastised on our behalf, and suffered a penalty He did not owe, but which we owed because of the multitude of our sins; and so He became the cause of the forgiveness of our sins, because He received death for us, and transferred to Himself the scourging, the insults, and the dishonour, which were due to us, and drew down upon Himself the appointed curse, being made a curse for us.” – Eusebius – Proof of the Gospel
“Thus He offered Himself to the death of the accursed that He might break the curse of the Law, offering Himself voluntarily a victim to God the Father, in order that by means of a voluntary victim the curse which attended the discontinuance of the regular victim might be removed.” – Hilary of Poitiers – Homily on Psalm 53
“He surrendered His body to death in place of all, and offered it to the Father.” – Athanasius – On the Incarnation
Those words are but a few, but they are 700 to 900 years earlier than Anselm. Point made.